If you are a Fremantle fan, Saturday night was easily one of the proudest moments in club history. To see Matthew Pavlich overcome a nagging injury, gather the ball, sell a bit of candy then steady to kick the match winning goal should have brought a tear to your eye. The 16-point win over Geelong wasn’t just a season defining moment; it signified the ushering in of a new era of Fremantle football.
17 AFL seasons produced just two finals wins for Fremantle prior to Saturday night and full credit needs to be given to coach Ross Lyon. These Dockers, without key cogs Nat Fyfe and Aaron Sandilands for significant stretches of the season, discovered a perfect balance between an attacking and defending style of football and the top teams should be worried. Two years after being thumped by Geelong in another final also at the MCG, that same style helped them jump out to a seven goal lead over the reigning premiers, something no one saw coming.
The defence, even without Luke McPharlin, was in lockdown mode. Tom Hawkins has been a revelation over the second half of 2012, but he was a non factor against Zac Dawson and the rest of the back unit. The other guys- Johnson, Duffield Spurr and McPhee- are extremely effective streaming forward and Ryan Crowley eagerly goes about his tagging roles where he is one of the best in the game at that position.
One aspect to Fremantle’s success has been Lyon leading them to road wins. In 2011, Fremantle lost all six of their games in Melbourne. In 2010, the year in which they won 13 games and a home final against Hawthorn, Fremantle lost five of their eight games in Victoria. In just their first year under Lyon’s and his new system Freo won a 14 games, tied for the second highest in club history, and including the win against Geelong, have won five from six in Melbourne.
Matthew Pavlich deserves a lot of credit too. He didn’t seem his normal self earlier in the year and it was evident in him kicking all ten of his goals in just three of the first ten games. But round 11 brought with it a new Pavlich and he’d be the club’s leading goal kicker in just about every match after that. He has been so prolific since the bye rounds that he was almost able to pull off the impossible and snatch up the Coleman Medal from out of nowhere. Pavlich was again brilliant on Saturday. His six goals, including a couple late, were exactly what this team needed from its leader and face of the team.
Over the past decade, Fremantle has possessed two key and valuable players in Pavlich and ruckman Aaron Sandilands. The duo occupy some of the game’s hardest positions to fill and are All-Australia talents; top 5 (or better) players at their position. Unfortunately, injuries, poor coaching and mismanagement has seen Fremantle come up short year after year. 2012 might not be the year Fremantle wins its first premiership, but it will mark the year the club finally turned in the right direction.
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